Speaking at the event, Dr. Susan Lieberman, Vice President, International Policy, WCS, said that to stop the illegal wildlife trade, there is a need to disrupt the organized criminal network. “We can arrest every poacher and there will be ten more to fill in the space. So, it is important to shut down the criminal network. All this poaching and trafficking for highly valuable animals and their body parts is increasingly run by organized criminal syndicates. This is not the occasional villager hunting something and hoping someone comes around to buy it. These are organized criminals and you are seeing them and addressing them and combating them here in India. It is driven by high prices, it is facilitated by weak governance and low capacity…We have to deal with the capacity, we have to deal with the governance and we have to deal with how to disrupt these criminal networks,” said Dr. Lieberman while highlighting WCS’ strategy of assisting government partners through intelligence-led enforcement, employing tools from criminology, and transcontinental capacity building to dismantle organized wildlife trafficking syndicates. She further highlighted the links between disease, especially COVID 19 and live wildlife markets, stressing that closure of wildlife markets was critical to global public health safety.
Ms. Tilotama Varma, Additional Director, WCCB, spoke about the issue of wildlife trade in India and emphasised that the demand for wildlife in India comes from various parts across the globe, including southeast Asia, China, Europe and beyond. Talking about the work done by WCS-India and its collaboration with WCCB, Ms. Varma stressed upon the importance of partnership between enforcement agencies, NGOs and other organisations working against wildlife trafficking.
“At WCCB, our task is to work towards mitigating illegal trade in wildlife. However, until we come together and work in partnership with each other, we will not be in a position to stop this crime. WCS-India has been working in this area and has been helping enforcement agencies in various ways. They have collaborated with WCCB and have done a number of training programs for officers from various enforcement agencies. So far, 1,176 enforcement agency officials have been trained and soon they will soon come up with an app which will help in species identification and much more, on the go,” said Ms. Varma, adding that WCCB’s capacity building programme has trained as many as 21,000 officers from various enforcement agencies in the span of three years.
Dr. Saket Badola, Head, TRAFFIC India, listed some species like sharks and sea cucumber, which are not consumed on a large scale in India, yet India is a big contributor to the trade in these species. Talking about virtual wildlife trade markets, Mr. Badola said, “Cybercrime is a big threat to wildlife today. Physical markets are converting into virtual ones and so, we are working in collaboration with various internet companies to put an end to it. The transport sector is yet another factor contributing towards wildlife trade. India needs to be aware of the blind spots and should look at the issue of being a demand country,” said Mr. Badola.
Mr. H. C. Chaudhary, Chief Wildlife Warden, Meghalaya, too stressed upon the importance of collaborative work, while acknowledging the role of capacity building in dismantling organised wildlife trafficking networks. He spoke about two recent cases involving geckos, capacity building workshops on counter wildlife trafficking. One of the cases involved a tokay gecko seizure that resulted in the arrest of six persons, with connections to suspected smugglers in Nagaland, Assam and Meghalaya, indicating that the accused were part of an organised smuggling gang. Meghalaya Forest Department has recently arrested 38 persons for illegal wildlife hunting and trade; however only three persons have been sentenced, the rest have been fined for the offences, stated Mr. Chaudhary. “We need to build our capacity to undertake proper and scientific action. With the help of WCS and WCCB, we are building the capacity of our staff at range forest officer and divisional forest officer level. Because of these two trainings only, we were able to catch these persons involved in smuggling and poaching of these tokay geckos.”
Dr. Sameer Sinha, Additional PCCF, Wildlife, Uttarakhand, spoke about various challenges that the state faces in combating wildlife trafficking and measures being taken to ensure better conservation. “Uttarakhand has difficult terrain and thus patrolling becomes a huge challenge. We want to focus on the unglamorous part of conservation, that is, prevention. We are also working towards capacity building through training and specialized skills with support from organisations like WCCB and WCS-India,” said Mr. Sinha, adding that technology is also paving the way to break the network of organized criminals.
Bankim Sarma, DFO, Assam Forest Department, spoke about status of Rhinos in Assam. “The strategy is to enhance protection of rhinos in the state. The number of rhinos in the state has gone up to 2650. Rhino population has improved in the state and poaching cases have gone down. Frontline staff is being empowered by the government of Assam and we are also working with the police departments and organisations like WCCB and getting good results,” said Mr. Sarma.